I only took one philosophy class as an undergrad. I’m sorry to say it wasn’t a positive experience. Terribly shy, I worked up my courage to tackle a question aloud in class one day. My professor asked what the basis for my answer was and I responded, “the laws of physics.” Apparently that wasn’t a valid basis for an argument. I didn’t speak again in his class that semester. I wrote letters to my grandmother weekly during the class. But I read, wrote my papers, and got an A.
Fifteen or so years later, I received the syllabus for Ethics and Education, a course that’s part of the Klingenstein program at Columbia. I saw Plato and Seneca. My heart sank. I was not excited about revisiting philosophy and potentially repeating my undergrad experience. My attitude was bad and I was frustrated because I didn’t understand the purpose of these readings in relation to my educational and career goals.
I faithfully read Plato. Alcibiades. Meno. Crito. the Apology. At one point I said I felt like someone had replaced my actual brain with one made of yarn. I think it was after reading Meno and Crito back to back prior to a my evening law class. Even though I’m no longer really shy, I like my undergrad self. I was waiting to say something stupid. I was surrounded by people with history and classics backgrounds who really seemed to get what we were reading. I didn’t. I tried, but I didn’t. I read. I highlighted. I reread. I rewrote Socrates’ arguments in my own words. It got better. Apology made sense. I was able to use Sophocles’ Antigone as an allegory for school leadership in a paper.
Six weeks into school, it finally clicked. We’d read a long and (for me) challenging book entitled The Present Alone is Our Happiness. Each class starts with a question and as I looked through my notes, struggling for a question to answer, I finally found it. Does being a teacher make me a philosopher? Yikes!
I wasn’t comfortable with being a philosopher, but all the evidence I could find made me realize that teacher’s must be. I have specific philosophies about what is right in teaching, what teaching is good, and why teaching should be real-world and hands-on whenever possible. I struggle each day with questions of whether I am doing my best for each child. I have conversations about ideas with students. I want to live up to my teaching ideals. Sometimes I show my students that I don’t know how to do everything, but I try to think through it and figure it out. That’s really what being a philosopher is, I think.
So, I’ve been able now to read Montaigne’s Essay on the Education of Children and Dewy’s Moral Principles in Education with a good attitude, realizing that I am connecting each thing I read to my learning goals and that it is up to me to do so. I’m less worried about saying something stupid and even if I do, that’s okay. I’m just learning.
So, what do you think my question? Does being a teacher make you a philosopher?